Outsider Within: Web of Deceit - Part Three
“Scurvy, this isn’t my drink!”
“I ordered Thistleberry Tea. I don’t know what this is.”
The Lenny pirate looked down at the brown liquid. “My apol’gies,” he mumbled and snatched the cup off the table. He took it back behind the bar and dumped the coffee into a bucket.
“Scurvy, I ordered coffee,” called another voice. “This is some kind of tea!”
Barlow sighed, and not just at his infuriating nickname. He had been mixing up orders all day long. “Apol’gies,” he called to his customer. “Yer tea’ll be right up.” He fixed their drinks, and grabbed his bucket to dump the intermingling brews into the gutter. “Back in a jiff,” he declared to no one in particular.
What had he overheard in his tavern last night?
He liked D.A.; she was a classy lady. But what she had said last night to that reporter... could it be treason? Scurvy could not decide on a course of action. Tell the Darigani government? He was an outsider, and despite as long as he had lived on the Citadel, he still wasn’t one of them. Approach D.A.? If she was a traitor, he could be in danger.
Barlow dumped the coffee and tea mix into the gutter, little bits of tea leaves and coffee grinds sliding out with the last few drops.
He walked back into his tavern through the alley entrance. Perhaps she was not a traitor. Maybe what he’d heard was out of context. Maybe she was working for the government. If D.A. did work for the government, his poking around could disrupt the whole thing. He could be labeled a traitor. Even banished!
“Are you the owner of this establishment?”
Barlow turned around--a Techo stood in his supply room! “Th’ front door’s thataway,” he said flicking a feathered finger towards the front of his tavern, although he guessed this Techo was not here for the tea. “What’re ya doin’ comin’ in the back way?”
“I have a message for you,” said the Techo with a sneer.
Barlow’s mind snapped back to a place he had not been since... his pirating days. This Techo’s voice and manner screamed pirate, even though he was clearly Darigani. “Tell ‘em if he wants ta talk ta me, I’m open ev’ry day.”
The Techo chuckled in a not amused manner. “You are confident.”
Barlow raised an eyebrow at him and folded his wings. “I know what I am.”
“Do you know who I am?”
Barlow looked him over slowly. The Techo’s body was fit with youth, rugged with age. His clothes were worn but not shabby. The one feature that worried Barlow the most were those eyes of his; they were sharp and accustomed to cruelty. “If this were Krawk Isle, I’d say yer a pirate. First mate, maybe, ‘r a smaller Cap’n.”
“Oh really?” said the Techo with some amusement.
“But this isn’ Krawk Isle, now is it?”
The Techo coughed out another hollow laugh. “No. And you are not a Captain here, Barlow. You are an outsider.”
Barlow shifted his weight in unease. “Who’d ye say that mess’ge was from?” he asked. The Techo was right; he was not a pirate, but he was no Darigani guard, either.
Barlow’s legs stiffened. This man came from the underworld, a gangster, and one who knew the ropes. Barlow became afraid. Afraid the way he had been of the villainous Pirates back home, those who showed no sympathy for even their brethren on the Island.
“So you remember the name, do you?” The Techo smiled as he spoke, enjoying the power he exerted by simply speaking to the Lenny.
Barlow nodded slowly. First rule of dealing with career criminals: Never lie unless you know you can get away with it.
“Good. Now remember this: you will say nothing to anyone. Understand?”
Again, Barlow nodded.
“Good. I think we will get along just fine, as I never expect to see you again.”
Barlow dared to let a trickling of relief cool the heat of fear.
The Techo looked over his surroundings, the back of Scurvy’s tavern where he kept all of his supplies and equipment. “It is a nice tavern, Captain Barlow,” commented the Techo. “It would be a shame if something bad were to happen to it.” With a last confident smile, the Techo left the tavern into the alley.
Barlow stared in silence at the wooden door.
* * * * *
Lord Darigan leaned over the edge of his private terrace, gazing down at the green of Meridell below. Even without the now lost magical Orb, Meridell had an abundance of natural resources: fertile soil, lakes and rivers, even basic building necessities like wood and rocks. Darigan Citadel was a city pulled out of the ground by clockwork machinery its people barely understood. What his people had twenty years ago they were still living off of now. The same dirt, the same rocks. If they ever went long without rain water, they would be in grave trouble, so Sir Redik of Meridell had to come. The Lord had hoped to leave it as a “surprise” for his people, for Darigani were proud; any sort of help would be met with resistance. To ask the help of a land they had warred against twice... . And yet, it had to be done.
Darigan heard a rap on the door. “Come in,” he said. D.A. stepped onto the terrace. He turned to look her in the eye.
She bowed, causing some strands of dark hair to fall to her forehead. “Lord Darigan, I apologize for taking so long to respond to your call. Chief Henka has placed me in charge of examining the perimeter of the Chambers for possible weaknesses in our defenses.”
“Not at all, D.A. I did not send word for you more than twenty minutes ago.” He wished she would loosen up; they had known one another for years. Perhaps he felt closer to her than she did to him; he did not even know her real name. “I know you are busy, D.A., so I will not keep you long.” He motioned for her to follow him inside his private chambers. He fell back in a leather chair in front of his fireplace and motioned for D.A. to take the chair opposite him.
D.A. sat in her chair and laid a folder down on the table. The firelight always illuminated her cool eyes. “How may I assist you, my Lord?”
“Can I never simply speak with an old friend?”
She cocked her head. “Of course you may, my Lord. However, this is a very busy time for you, and I did not expect such a discourse.”
He sighed at her formality. “Very well, D.A. I will get down to business.” The Lord of the Citadel laced his fingers together and lay back in his seat. “How goes working with Henka?”
A smile laced with annoyance flickered across her lips. “He keeps me busy, Lord.”
Darigan allowed himself a relaxed grin. “I found it out of character for Henka to ask for your help. He has never gotten along well with you.” He waited for her to comment, but she said nothing. “It has occurred to me that he keeps you busy because he wants to know where you are and what you are doing in the days leading up to Sir Redik’s visit.”
“That sounds reasonable, Lord.”
“Yes.” His eyes flicked down for a moment, disappointed by lack of openness with him. “Nevertheless, it pleases me you are working together. As you may have noticed, D.A., Henka is exceptionally good at his job. He knows the underworld of the Citadel better than anyone else associated with the Chambers, and he knows how to keep an eye on things. However, you may also have noticed that while Henka is wrapped up in his own world, he tends to overlook the obvious.”
“You, D.A., for all your talents, are very good at seeing the obvious, and I mean that in the best possible way.”
“It is an often overlooked art,” said D.A. with confidence, “noticing the obvious. Often only the shrubs are noted, while the forest is overlooked.”
“True.” He laughed, eager to see his friend warm up. “Noticed any strange forests lately?”
She raised a teasing eyebrow. “Chief Henka does not inform you of everything I bring to his attention?”
“Chief Henka tells me what he thinks I need to hear. I’m alright with that; I would rather not know everything he does.”
“No, Lord Darigan, I have noticed nothing suspicious. The people of the Citadel are uneasy, from the farmers to the thieves, which is understandable. They do not trust Meridell, but I think they know without saying we need Meridell’s resources. However, my Lord,” she said in a more serious tone, “the really good troublemakers? You can never tell when they are going to strike until it is too late. That is why they are the good ones.”
He nodded gravely. “Indeed. I require both you and Henka to keep all of your senses sharp.”
“Not to worry, my Lord. You can trust me.”
To be continued...